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We'd had apples and pumpkin already for our pies, yet I still had the lingering twitch to make another. One with walnuts. And maple. As you do, this time of year.

For my friends in the United States, I'm here to give you a head start. For everyone else, I'm here to give you Maple Walnut Custard Pie.

While I'd boldly declared dessert plans figured, I've gone and improved upon the theme with a real contender for shared billing with that ice cream. I made this pie on Sunday, a week after our Thanksgiving and forty-some-odd days before the American counterpart (there's your head start, pals to the south — you can thank me later).

Ice cream was actually at the beginning of this. That's what got into my head, this funny memory of a past conversation with a friend, detailing the merits of Butter Pecan ice cream versus Maple Walnut. (And it's a good friend who both puts up with, and ardently participates in, such arguments.) Our debate made me think of my father, as it always does — not only because Maple Walnut is usually his favourite, but also because he began sugaring the maple trees on his property the same winter my eldest son was born.  

He tapped a few trunks and he, with the help of my eldest nephew, harvested the sap. They made quite the picture, ferrying buckets full of clear liquid from the forest to big pots that sat atop a wood-fed stove. There the sap bubbled and reduced, going golden then amber and sweet. In those first years, the stove had a shorter stack, so the resulting syrups were touched with smoke. The syrup smelled, and even better tasted, of crisp air and campfires. 

It was the nicest I've ever had. 

So I made this pie, with my father still in mind, and my mother-in-law too, because she likes both butter pecan and maple walnut, and Sean's grandmother as well, because she makes the finest Butter Tarts and this pie reminds me of them —  a subject we should stick a pin in and come back to later.

This pie is an old-fashioned looker, made by hand. You can consider it a rustic variation on pecan pie, a brawny northern cousin that's caramelly sweet but unexpectedly subtle. A bit flannely, with a generous smile. That sort.

You'll see there's two brown sugars in the filling. I thought all dark might be too heavy, and all golden might be too anemic - but using only one or the other would be perfectly fine in a pinch. The one thing can't be fiddled is the maple syrup, which needs to be proper stuff. 

Choose the grade you're fond of, or if you come across some smokily intense maple syrup, then that's the one to invite along. It'll hang around with the toasty-edged walnuts and get on like best mates who to talk about ice cream. 

Their companionship is both complimented and tamed by the boosted creaminess brought by a swirl of evaporated milk (I know!) stirred in with the eggs. And the oats! Those oats, they're tricky misters, and the subject of quite the side-eye as they went into the bowl. But oh, what a difference a soak and a bake make. The oats fluff up, lose their form and give the pie a pleasant density, setting the custard soft and pudding-like, underneath the cobblestone crust of walnuts that float to the top and go crunchy.

In secure belief that this is a pie you'll like, I'll see about asking Dad for an extra-large syrup harvest come spring.

I'll thank him later for that. Quite possibly with pie. 

Maple Walnut Custard Pie

Adapted from The Egg Farmers of Ontario.

The ingredients are pretty much the same as the original; the method is where things change. Here there's the instruction to pre-bake the crust. And, when almost done, the warm pastry gets a thin coat of egg white, which is then baked for a minute until shining.

These added measures maintain some of the crust's crispness, which is nice against the smooth filling. It also makes the pastry edge extra pretty. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/8 teaspoon table
  • 1 unbaked 8-by-2-inch chilled pastry shell, see note
  • Granulated sugar for sprinkling
  • One egg white for brushing plus 3 whole eggs, lightly beaten

Method

Preheat an oven to 400°F (205°C). 

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the walnuts until golden and fragrant. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, oats, evaporated milk, maple syrup, melted butter, vanilla and salt. 

Prick the pastry all over with a fork. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes, pressing down any puffed areas with the back of a spoon gently if necessary. Remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more, the crust should be starting to look dry in places. Remove the crust from the oven, brush all over with a thin coating of the egg white, and sprinkle edge with granulated sugar, if desired. Return to the oven to bake for 1 minute more. 

Set aside the crust to keep warm, and reduce the oven temperature to  350°F (175°C).

Stir the toasted walnuts into the filling, along with the whole eggs. As soon as the oven reaches temperature, pour the filling into the still-warm crust and bake until puffed at the centre and set with little wobble, about 60 minutes. Transfer to a baking rack and cool completely before slicing. 

Makes one 8-inch pie, serving 8-10.

Notes:

  • I changed the size of the pie, as the greater ratio of filling to pastry made for a more satisfying bite. A pâte brisée recipe for a 9 or 10-inch pie will allow for the extra depth of a 8-by-2-inch pie plate. If using a store-bought pie shell, which are usually 9-inch, reduce the cooking time to around 40 minutes. 
Posted
Authortara
Categoriesdessert
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caramel self-saucing walnut puddings

There is a quiet gentleness to the word pudding, or even better its diminutive form, pud. I’m considering it in its larger scope, the loosely-defined notion of desserts in general, not the narrow view of custard alone.

Pudding has a welcoming, nursery-school comfort to its sound. Placing the phrase “Caramel Self-Saucing” as a prefix only serves to amplify that quality.

However, for all their soothing reputation, these petite darlings gave me a world of trouble.  Well, not these ones, as these ones right here are the ones that were made after the hair pulling. After the whispered mutterings punctuated by half-swallowed curses. These ones were the ones that reminded me when made well, a proper pud is your bestest bud on an autumn afternoon. These are the ones that made me do a happy dance in my kitchen, right there by the stove.

What was it that caused all my trouble? Only this - I wanted these cakes to be darned special for all their humbleness. I wanted them pleasantly solid and touched with caramel, and perfectly spoonable. 

Before I get into the account of my failure, it would be remiss to jaunt merrily ahead when I've not given Self-Saucing Puddings the introduction they're due.

To make this miraculous invention, you stir together a simple batter that's spooned into a buttered baking dish. Then your pour a watery syrup, in this instance a caramel one, over top the uncooked cake. Yes, overtop. It looks a right mess, and you're thinking you've ruined the whole recipe, because who is going to want to eat something that looks like a sludge-covered bog, and gracious, will your friends ever even want to come over again after you serve them swamp pudding? Steel yourself and pop that dish in the oven.

Take a deep breath and uncross your fingers. You needn't worry. Promise.

The cake will take care of itself. As it bakes, the modest batter grows, rising above the murky darkness of the liquid. And that syrup, so unceremoniously displaced, will sink and ooze its way down, around and through the cake, ending up as a thickened puddle at the bottom of the dish.

And, as someone smart recently said to me, "what could be better than finding warm caramel on the bottom of a yummy cake?" Good question.

Now suitably lulled by that blissful notion, here is the story of my failures. 

My first go gave me a cake that was perfectly serviceable. Its top had a light sugar glaze that was crystalized and pretty - a sugared crust created by the syrup as it sank. But the caramel was where it faltered - I'd pulled muscovado from the pantry, craving its burnt-toffee sweetness and the suggestion of treacle. What I ended up with was far more than a suggestion, it was a manifesto yelled from the depths of my bowl. It was so sugary it hurt.

I tried again. This time with dark brown sugar and a greater ratio of water to sugar and less syrup on the whole.

Then the cake. Serviceable wasn't enough. I was going for better than that. I'd put roasted walnuts in the first try, which gave a rough crumb that reminded me of tweed coats and cable knit sweaters. This time around, as I was melting the butter, it hit me - let it brown. So I did, watching with far more glee than is probably normal for one to feel over a saucepan of bubbling butter, as it went from buttercup to deeper golden, and finally touched with umber.

The aromatic butter was transformative. The cake was given voice against the caramel, in harmonious tandem. 

The third try was a minor tweak - seeds from a vanilla bean. It is a sleepy spice, with a murmured warmth that is without edge. It's the accent of a hushed baritone. The duet turned a trio and was improved by the collaboration.

That was the charm, as they say. For here was the pud I'd wanted, one that lived up to its name. 

SELF-SAUCING CARAMEL WALNUT PUDDINGS

INGREDIENTS

For the syrup

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the cake

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces walnuts, toasted and ground into meal with a food processor
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
  • 4-6 small fresh figs, sliced (optional)
  • Lightly-whipped cream to serve

METHOD

Start with the syrup. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Once liquid, stir in the brown sugar to combine along with the salt. Pour in the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Set aside.

Preheat an oven to 325°F (160°C).

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the 6 tablespoons butter. Cook until the butter begins to brown and smell toasty, around 5 minutes. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally - it will continue to darken as it sits. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, stir together the browned butter, walnut meal, eggs, brown sugar, milk and seeds from the vanilla bean. Once combined, stir in the dry ingredients until just blended. Do not overmix.

Divide the pudding mixture between 6 x 1-cup capacity greased oven-safe dishes. Top with sliced figs. 

Give the syrup a stir if needed, then carefully pour some over the back of a spoon onto each of the cakes, trying not to disturb the figs. The cakes will look a mess, but don't worry. Bake in the preheated oven until the cake is puffed and set, with a dry, glistening crust and you can see the syrup bubbling around the edge of the dishes, around 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving with the cream.

Makes 6.

Posted
Authortara
Categoriesdessert, baking
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